It’s easy to feel besieged here,” said Wendy Ross, superintendent of the Theodore Roosevelt national park. Ross’s park, named after the “conservationist president” who helped to keep America’s natural treasures unspoiled, is surrounded by oil and gas drilling that has transformed the landscape.
The boom in cheap natural gas has led to drilling and flame flaring just outside the boundaries of the 110 square mile national park, located in North Dakota’s badlands. There is virtually nowhere in the park in which its 600,000 annual visitors cannot see a drilling rig, an oil pump, a highway or a cellphone tower in what was once a sleepy rural area.
Ross said she is bombarded by letters and messages on Facebook from tourists over these eyesores. She frets that the park’s special status for clean air will be ruined by pollution and that a new oil refinery, planned for an area just two miles east of the protected area, will heighten this clash between nature and mining.
“The visitor experience is impacted by this type of structure,” Ross said. “These proposals all add up, they have a cumulative impact. There’s a perception that we are trying to shut down the energy industry but we just want responsible placement of these things.”
The challenges facing Theodore Roosevelt national park are emblematic of a fresh struggle for the soul of national parks. The parks, “America’s best idea”, have to define what they are for and whom they serve. Once-simmering tensions are starting to pop.
“The attacks on public land have become more visible and increasingly agitated, it’s got more muscle in recent years,” said Lynn Scarlett, chief operating officer of the Department of the Interior through George W Bush’s presidency.
“My discussions with Congress used to be about practical things, whether funding was enough,” she said. “It wasn’t like this. I didn’t find this general tenor of discussion that was anti-federal land and certainly not sentiments that were anti-national parks.”
There is a new crusade by some lawmakers, dubbed the “anti-parks caucus”, to unlock more public land to drilling and other development. This is a sharp divergence from the broad consensus forged since Roosevelt, a Republican, spurred the expansion of America’s network of national parks almost 110 years ago. This network now spans 412 federally protected places, including 59 national parks such as Yellowstone and Yosemite as well as hundreds of battlefields, monuments and historical trails.
A long piece, but an excellent example of how the left is portraying recent land-use and land ownership issues.
For a rancher's perspective, see the next post.